Ryan Braun is the most recent user of Performance Enhancing Drugs, and he will not be the last. Suspensions for Bartolo Colon, Melky Cabrera, and Alex Rodriguez among others are reportedly imminent. But Braun is the most recent player to benefit from a broken and flawed system in need of a revamp badly.
Ryan Braun received a 65-game suspension for his role in the Biogenesis scandal, but it was merely a slap on the wrist. He will lose less than $4 million of his total $145 million contract and contract extension. There is far too much incentive to cheat. Melky Cabrera signed a $15 million free agent deal with Toronto after sitting out for 50 games last season with the Giants.
Figures such as ESPN’s Buster Olney suggest that the culture of baseball is changing. In regards to Braun’s suspension, Max Scherzer of the Detroit Tigers went so far as to say
I’m glad he got caught. He went out of his way to try to bring people down and cover up his lies.
That’s big time talk. The rhetoric of players is different now, but ultimately the culture hasn’t changed. Even though he still hasn’t admitted to using, Ryan Braun benefitted from PED use, and will continue to benefit far more than he has been punished by Major League Baseball.
Changing the penalty is often debated. 50 and 100 games for first and second time offenders is too soft if Major League Baseball was serious about deterring performance enhancers. Punishment after the first or second offense is too late to be an actual deterrent. But making the individual penalty tougher won’t cure everything. The death penalty doesn’t deter all would-be murderers after all.
The penalty isn’t the only thing that needs to be different. The incentives to find and weed out users of performance enhancing drugs need to be different. Ultimately, the teams need to be involved in both punishment and prevention.
Face it, Ryan Braun isn’t the only one to benefit; the Milwaukee Brewers also benefitted. Without the sale of Braun jerseys and other merchandise, and playoff success and ticket sales with his on-field performance, the small market Milwaukee Brewers are not even as high as the 22nd ranked MLB franchise in terms of current team value according to Forbes–they would be at the bottom of the list in the Kansas City Royals range.
Not only is there no incentive currently for MLB teams to find out if players are doping, there is incentive to sign players who are doping. They are going to make the team better and increase the value of the franchise before they get caught, if they get caught.
How many more games players should be suspended or banned than they are currently is a related, but separate conversation. Major League Baseball needs to start punishing teams who have players who use(d) performance enhancing drugs, then they will be more active in preventing usage.
For any player caught using PEDs, in addition to their suspension/ban, their team should not be allowed to fill that roster spot for the length of the suspension/ban. If it’s a lifetime ban, then for the rest of the season they are banned if it’s mid-season, in addition to the following season. The Players Association will not be thrilled by that plan since it directly inhibits the inclusion and development of minor league players. But that will hurt clubs before they open up to 40 man rosters.
Furthermore teams should have to vacate wins that a PED user appeared in. It gets messy going down this road. Enforcement is difficult, and full of obstacles. And it’s not exactly worked flawlessly for the NCAA. But college players and coaches are largely long gone when it come time to enforcing these penalties. In MLB PED usage will negatively effect teams and lifelong teammates who still play with the franchise and will for many years to come. Personal contact with the undeserved, mutually punished could be a deterrent.
As an example, if MLB vacated 25% of the wins that a PED user appeared in, that would destroy teams, franchises, player’s careers. It will be an extremely messy situation to enforce, but it’s not going to take many years of enforcement to get the point across–PED usage will not be tolerated. Don’t screw over your teammates.
The best part of this idea moving forward is the incentive to be clean will be signifacntly increased on multiple fronts. It’s not just MLB that will be hunting down steroid users, but each Major League franchise as well. No one want wins, playoff appearances and World Series vacated. It will be in the organization’s interest to be clean from top to bottom, starting with Presidential candidate type vetting before organizations sign anyone to so much as a rookie contract.
And the player’s incentives not to use PED’s will be higher. Putting your own career in jeopardy (even if it benefits it) is one decision, but knowingly putting your teammates careers in jeopardy is not something many major leaguers would do.
But one serious problem is that the successful application of these penalties relies on the morality of the players. Ryan Braun lied to his friends and teammates repeatedly on this matter–why wouldn’t others? So it’s probably much less of an incentive to deter cheating than in theory. And another issue is what to do with player’s contracts? Should they still be guaranteed or voided? If teams are now an interested party to hunt down PED users, voiding contracts would be too lucrative for teams who might be tempted to signal false positives for underperforming and/or overpaid players. The contracts could be decreased by an arbitrary percentage, like 30%, to find a middle ground.
It’s not a perfect solution that doesn’t need any tweaking. But neither is Bud Selig‘s current “tough” stance on Performance Enhancers. But the incentive to not cheat needs to be more of a deterrent than making more money.